Cutie Honey Universe
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 3 of
Cutie Honey Universe ?
Jill's cover identity of Inspector Genet has already caught the eye of everyone around her, and this week Honey's BFF Natsuko finds herself hopelessly head-over-heels for her. After two episodes of laying out the format and giving us Honey's backstory along the way, Cutie Honey Universe starts developing its subplots with some of the side characters. It makes for a more cohesive episode of the show than we've gotten before now, even if it is at the expense of some of the other things it was doing well before.
Natsuko and Genet going on a date forms the backbone of this episode, so your enjoyment of it will live or die based on your opinion of that premise. I thought the incredible awkward silences between them in the car were hilariously on-point, but I can see them just feeling extremely awkward to others, as Genet not-so-subtly probes Natsuko for information on Honey's coveted plot devices. Still, the exploration of others' reactions to Jill's machinations make for the most surprising development in a previously shallow show.
Honestly, the strength of this episode is letting the ancillary characters contribute to the plot, unlike the cameo-induced whiplash we got out of them in prior episodes. A running gag features Naoko and her Sukeban entourage stalking Genet and Natsuko, making numerous jealous remarks along the way. It's only kinda funny in that very 70's face-fault-driven way, but it's still nice to see people besides just Honey and Genet getting involved, and we actually learn more about these oddballs along the way. There's also a rewarding fake-out shot of Natsuko being attacked by this week's Panther Claw monster that reveals Naoko actually took the hit for her. Over the course of just one episode's side-plot, Naoko has gone from one-dimensional bully to a laconic badass with a heart of gold. It speaks to the staying power of Go Nagai's characters and the tropes they embody.
Other characters get similar bits sprinkled throughout the story. The gaggle of detectives pops in for just a moment to justify their inclusion with a good gag about how Akebi and Momori don't actually do anything on the computers they're constantly seen using. Jill's M.O. becomes more defined, though her exact goals stay somewhat muddied. She makes it clear that anyone not deemed ‘useful’ to her will be eliminated, so this week's monster gets offed while she lets Natsuko walk away mostly untouched. Natsuko, for her part, turns out to be the first cast member capable of putting two-and-two together about this Saturday-morning plot, having already begun to suspect Genet. This last development was one of the most surprising to me, and Natsuko has proven to be a charming character so far, so I'm looking forward to seeing her do more.
But the entertaining use of characters and decent plot momentum end up crowding out some of the other elements that already worked in Cutie Honey Universe. Honey herself winds up with hardly anything to do this time around, save for declaring her intent to safeguard Genet and Natsuko's date, and that gets derailed when a distraction of a robbery turns most of Honey's time-killing into a shaggy dog story. As long as this series is leaning into the stock elements of its plot, it might have been more entertaining to see Honey try to keep monsters away from the focal couple while they went about their business in the foreground. Even when our heroine does catch up with the monster-motivated date gone awry, the resulting battle is relegated to her one-shotting the monster with one hell of a Rider Kick. Is it too much to ask for the character work and parallel plotting of this episode to be accompanied by the awesome action of the previous ones? I can't be the only one who find it conspicuous that we've only seen two of Honey's many forms so far, and there was hardly even time for any fanservice this week!
But if the show has to conserve some resources to make the most of what we got this week, I'll take it. The hodgepodge introductory material finally settling down was exactly what I wanted, and the resulting cohesion goes a long way toward improving this episode. Cutie Honey Universe has gone from feeling like a formulaic old-school superhero serial to a slightly later version of the same thing, with an overarching plot you could feel developing over the course of scattered episodes. Maybe it's not really damning Cutie Honey Universe with faint praise to call this the best episode yet, since it feels like the story is just getting started now.
Cutie Honey Universe is currently streaming on HIDIVE.
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